Covering Covid on a virtual placement

Photo of Alex

by Alex Jones
BA Journalism Studies

It wasn’t that I hadn’t prepared. It was more that I had never been thrown out of my comfort zone. From the moment I joined the virtual meeting – for my day’s work placement with the PA news agency – I realised I was going to be busy from the get-go: sourcing, finding and writing national stories.

Before I got stuck into researching by using social media, the Social Media Editor at PA had a one-to-one conversation with me about different tools and ways of searching Twitter which his team uses to find interesting stories and relevant interviewees. I was taught advanced ‘Boolean search’ techniques and given some top tips that I was told are strictly confidential to PA.

Later on, back at the University, I used this method to source interviewees for my magazine project in my final semester. This highlights the value of working on the job while studying – as your coursework will only get better due to the skills you develop in the workplace.

I covered two stories in depth…

Story 1: The collapse of Topshop and Debenhams

I did this placement in December 2020, during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, after the government had introduced tiered lockdown structures for different areas of the UK. The story of the Arcadia retail group’s collapse broke during our morning meeting and briefing. Our editor told the social media desk to leave the call and get cracking on the breaking news.


“This was my first work placement in a national agency, but I was made a better journalist for it. I had no idea who this man was or what his opinions were, but I just went with it, using skills I developed on the university course”

Alex on conducting an interview

I was now on the hunt for past and present employees of the retailers for interviews for news copy. I spent hours trying to find people on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, and I’m not sure I would have gotten very far without the mentoring of the Social Media Editor. 

A while later, I had spoken to three people in the space of half an hour, and had written up their quotes and transferred them to my news copy.

Story 2: The government’s ‘insulting’ wet pub grant

The government offered ‘wet pubs’ (pubs that don’t serve meals and couldn’t reopen due to the new Covid restrictions) a one-off sum of £1,000 to pay for the cost of closure. Managers and workers in the hospitality sector were not happy.

The editor called me and asked for an interview with a Lancashire business owner who had accepted PA’s approach for comment. He was ready and waiting for me to call him for the interview, so I was thrown in at the deep end. This was my first work placement in a national agency, but I was made a better journalist for it. I had no idea who this man was or what his opinions were, but I just went with it, using skills I developed on the university course.

I used my shorthand skills to quickly transfer quotes to my laptop, then wrote the news copy before it was edited and then published on the news wire. I was very proud when I saw it online, but I have to say it wouldn’t have been the same experience had the social editor, and my closest contact, not been so helpful.

Overall I learnt so much on my placement with PA, and it was proof that placements can be done online and virtually, even with student wi-fi! I used everything I had learned on the undergraduate course, and I was made to feel very confident and reassured by the end of the day. I developed contacts and invaluable skills and confirmed my desire to work in the industry full time after my degree.

Sheffield is independently rated by the Complete University Guide 2022 as the number 1 university in England for studying journalism. Want to see journalism’s bigger picture? Study with us.

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